Before the last two games, the Gators were in the top three nationally in rushing defense. Things have definitely changed.
"It is one thing that our staff takes a lot of pride in… the run defense," Dan Quinn told the Florida media Wednesday. "Certainly when one of the things that you are counting on to be the backbone of your core and you don't play the technique as well as you want, there is some frustration there. There was some disappointment, but also some attitude of let's get back to it, get our hands back in the grass and go put them on people."
Despite maybe missing ideal pieces to the personnel puzzles that Quinn and head coach Will Muschamp want to create, Quinn says they aren't going to change up the play calling they are initiating. Having the linemen take on two gaps is something they will continue to be asked to do.
"Sometimes we even align in two-gap and move to a one-gap system," Quinn said. "There may be games we play more two gap than others. Sometimes you need to set an edge and 3-4 might be the best way to do that. Pass rush kind of factors into that too. It really depends on the game and on the style of the team (opponent)."
Despite the issues up front in starting the run, Quinn did say that one guy played well against LSU. Still, he wants his guys to come off the ball strong and use their hands effectively when getting after it.
"At different spots there was some improvement, Floyd would have been one that stood out and had a better performance week than the one before," he said of the defense. "Overall, one of the things we are emphasizing is getting our hands and getting knock backs and separation and really winning back the line of scrimmage. It is such an important part of defensive line play and something we have emphasized since we got here. I hope we see that improvement this week."
According to Quinn the Gators had 12 missed tackles in the game and "that is a lot". One of the spots on the field that has underperformed is the BUCK position. The starter there is currently Ronald Powell who actually missed a good part of the LSU game with an injury.
"For us, we want the production at that position to be higher… when the rush opportunities are there, we need to convert faster into the rush… technique of an edge setter when playing that way," he said. "It isn't one thing. It is a daily thing for him and a lot of guys to say ‘how are we going to play our brand of football better?'."
Questions were raised from the media about whether Powell would be served better playing at another position.
"I think he's in the right spot for the system," Quinn said. "He has speed and length for that spot. For a lot of guys it is just a function of us just playing better."
The Gators will also be without second team linebacker Dee Finley who was playing at the SAM spot behind starter Lerentee McCray. Quinn said they look to use a couple of freshmen in Graham Stewart and Chris Johnson will be asked to step up in the absence of Finley and to help out the other starters like Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins.
"Mike Taylor is the top back up inside behind Jon and Jelani and we are kind of working in Graham Stewart and Juice Johnson," Quinn said. "Graham plays a little more in the regular and Juice more in the nickel."
With the need for improvement, Quinn really doesn't see any lineup changes ahead and said that sophomore cornerback Jeremy Brown is likely still the only one out with injury.
The bad play on defense could be chalked up to youth on defense. Six sophomores and two freshmen are in the starting lineup. However, this coaching staff has been steadfast in not using youth and inexperience as an excuse.
"It is part of the experience of playing," Quinn said. "No one likes to have the performance go well if you are a competitor, young or experienced or not. To me it is more of let's look at it and get the problems fixed. If there was a technique issue or certain style we want to play different. At this point they have all played some ball. We are toward the middle point of the season. We don't see them as inexperienced anymore."
Still, the young guys have gone through their first real tests as starters and prominent players on defense, and Quinn sees the experience as invaluable.
"I think it gives you a sense of where we performed at and where we got beat," Quinn said of the last two contests. "I think there is a certain part of the process that you don't like to go through. But, there is a hardness that comes out of it you can take with you to know that this is not acceptable and the way to play."
Finally, Quinn sees some light this week. A good week of practice was highlighted by some tough play in the trenches that was maybe a little more than it has been earlier in the season, and by design.
"One of the things that has been great for us is we had some real competition against the offense this week," he said. "It was the Halapio's going against the Omar Hunters. I thought that was a real important part of the preparation this week where guys got to compete against each other. I would say they were business like, intense, focus, toughness, and workmanlike."